Dreamers & Doers

Austin mother's frustrating search for childcare leads to innovative new company

Austin mother's search for childcare leads to innovative company

Kids playing on a playground
JuiceBox Hero is available now for Central Texans. Seedling/Facebook

Millions of parents have faced the same issue for years: Where can I find reasonably priced, responsible care for my children? The current answer seems to be a mix of mining Facebook groups, asking other parents, and crossing your fingers for the universe to provide a solution. But this process wasn't enough for Austinite Laurie Felker Jones.

Felker Jones and her husband, Damon, have two children and full-time jobs. “The only reason I could work was because I had amazing childcare partners, but they were really hard to find,” says Felker Jones. “I kept thinking, ‘We have Zappos, we have AirBnB, we have Kayak.com. Why is it that when it comes to this hyper-important search, there’s no solution?”

This was the impetus for JuiceBox Hero, a tool that connects Central Texans to pre-Ks, day cares, and after-school programs.

She found a common frustration among friends, in particular, Brandon Burris, a technologist who’d recently left a global startup. He immediately recognized the value in the proposal and signed on to help build the tool. Eighteen months later, after hundreds of conversations with parents, tracking data around childcare, and understanding the needs of local and national partners, they officially founded JuiceBox Hero in 2017.

The site is populated with thousands of Central Texas childcare solutions. There are a number of filters by which to find the perfect option for your kids, such as age, type of care, curriculum, religious preferences, location, distance, etc.

JuiceBox Hero is also working to include the cost, which will allow parents to compare prices, something Felker Jones says they were inspired to add after uncovering upwards of 20 different kinds of hidden fees for various programs.

The thoughtfulness of the online tool has already lead to its success less than two years after its launch.

“Basically just through word of mouth, we’re seeing about 1,000 parents come to the site each month to find childcare. It’s a huge hole in the market and something that affects millions of people,” Felker Jones says. “Getting investors to recognize that there wasn’t a market solution was an interesting process … especially given that only 2 percent of venture capital funds go to women. At one point as I was pitching the idea to a group of [male] investors, they said, ‘Don’t moms just figure this out?'"

According to Felker Jones, she looked at them and said, “"Of course we will. It's our kids. It's our careers. [But] it's 2019: we can have great tech to help us, too.”

It’s surprising to think that no one has stumbled upon this solution before, but Felker Jones says she is “uniquely positioned to tackle the issue."

"I’ve scaled dozens of political campaigns and I’ve worked with data extensively," she explains. "Taking those skills I’ve developed in politics and applying them to this is what’s helped it be successful. Although to be honest, this whole process has been a little like I’m climbing Mount Everest in flip-flops and a fanny pack."

Her advice for other dreamers is two-fold: “Go find the people who are aligned with what you’re doing. Make them your advisers, supporters, and mentors,” Felker Jones advises.

A critical part of their success was learning from people, like taking Ada Ryland’s course on LEAN methodology. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” she says. The other crucial part of being a founder is to “view feedback as a gift. To be successful, you have to really want to hear what the market is saying.”

“What keeps me in the game is knowing that I’m giving people a real solution to a tremendous problem,” she shares. “I had a friend who looked for six months for a spot. She said ‘Laurie, I just need a place to start.’” Felker Jones responded, “I can get you a place to start.”